POLITICAL ABUSES WILL NOT GO UNCHECKED

(Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2/8/2012)

Act 43, the state redistricting map, is rotten, and the process by which it passed is rotten. Voces de la Frontera filed a lawsuit against Act 43 on behalf of Latino voters whose civil rights have been violated.

This map denied the creation of a 70% Latino supermajority assembly district, which would have elevated the voice of Latino voters based on age and citizenship status.

The creation of two majority Assembly districts, while appearing superficially as progress, diluted the voting power of Latinos in both districts and has resulted in the weakening of a Latino voting bloc during a period of significant growth of the Latino population in our state – 70% statewide and around 40% in the Milwaukee area.

The 8th Assembly District has produced the only Latino state legislators in Wisconsin. It now has fewer Latino voters.

This map tramples on our voting rights.

As unjust as this outcome is, our recent discovery of how it was passed is equally disturbing. In the process of our federal voting rights lawsuit, Voces de la Frontera attorneys uncovered what we consider to be severe violations of Wisconsin’s open government law and open meetings rules.

Aides to Republican leaders Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald worked under the direction of the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich to organize secret, individual meetings with 58 Republican Assembly legislators and 17 Republican senators. Each legislator signed a secrecy agreement with a map and description of his or her district.

Adam Foltz, aide to Jeff Fitzgerald who helped draft the maps, apparently drafted talking points in June that stated: “Public comments on this map may be different from what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments.”

In other words, the public hearing and process (in which the new maps were only made available to the public on a Friday and the public hearing held on the following Wednesday) were nothing more than a charade. Republican legislators intentionally shut out any public opinion in the legislative process leading up to the approval of the new maps. The rush to pass these maps, under an unheard-of level of covertness, will have a lasting impact on state elections for the next 10 years, redrawing voting districts for a purely partisan agenda.

This is both a legal and moral violation of the public trust. These covert actions were at taxpayer expense and did not involve the full state Legislature or public opinion in the process. Regardless of party affiliation, the voting process and fair representation are cornerstones of a democracy and fundamental for the people to have a voice in government.

Voces de la Frontera filed a complaint Monday with the Dane County district attorney to ask for two things:

1) Throw out Act 43 and conduct a new transparent, impartial process.

2) Investigate and file charges against all state legislators who signed the agreements and were part of a coverup.

Finally, there should be an immediate investigation into ethical violations on the part of Michael Best & Friedrich in helping legislators skirt the law and the use of taxpayer dollars in such activity.

These revelations are one more scandal in a series of assaults on democracy that have come to light under the Walker administration. They represent a culture of political corruption and disregard for a government by and for the people.

Wisconsin has a proud tradition of valuing good government and a working democracy. In the past year, the people of Wisconsin have revived this democratic tradition in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box.

These abuses will not go unchecked.

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